The Daddyman's Dad

I wondered why he had never once been promoted.

I was eight years old, lying on a grassy hill half a block from my house. It was an unusually pensive moment for a young boy. My gaze was on the clouds, vivid white surrounded by a deep blue August sky. But my mind was on the future. Next month school would start, and these days of freedom would be over. Next year I would turn nine. The only kid in our neighborhood who was nine was fat. Would I get fat when I turned nine? Does everyone get fat when they are nine, and then most thin out again at ten? No, that couldn't be right.

Usually my Mom would call from our porch when it was time for me to come in. Maybe she did and I just didn't hear her, so intrigued I was with my own thoughts. When my Dad came to find me he sat beside me and asked me what I was thinking about. I said, "Dad, what should I do when I grow up?" He spoke in a tone that made me think that he had been wanting to talk to me about this for some time. What he said was more important to him than the rules of our household, or what I was learning in school, or even what the priests said at Mass. My dad did not think of himself as a fountain of wisdom, and he doubted whether kids ever did what their parents advised anyway. Still, he hoped maybe this would be an exception. If he could get this message across now, maybe it would guide me for the rest of my life. "Whatever you want, Tim," he answered.

"But really make sure that it is something you enjoy. You may be doing it for a long time." That was it, the whole lecture. His timing was perfect. At that moment, I was listening. I had thought I should grow up to be someone important, or famous. Now I could just pick something I liked. What a relief.

Its another August, nine years later, and I am about to start my senior year at a prep school I loathe, but my mother loves. I'm looking around for a sledge hammer big enough to knock down every pillar of this worthless, hypocritical society. My parents meet with the headmaster who plans to further mold my mind in preparation for success in the Ivy League. This school year is going to be a nine month disaster. My dad is the only one who sees the writing on the wall. He tells me in private, "You don't have to go. You can choose a different school."

I am stunned by his offer. Everyone else seemed convinced that graduating from this school is essential to becoming successful in life. Still, I can't turn my back on the impending fight. I've got a chip on my shoulder and I want the headmaster to try to knock it off. I go back. I have the worst year of my life. I almost get expelled. But through it all I keep inside me the knowledge that my dad gave me the choice. I have this feeling that he is on my side.

My dad's office was in our house in Minneapolis. For twenty five years he was a regional salesperson for Corning Glass Works. He won awards for his sales every year. I was proud of the many framed certificates he had mounted on the wall, one for each year, signed by the president of the company. It wasn't until recently that I wondered why he had never once been promoted. Were the awards all a sham?

I asked my mother. She said, "No, he was offered promotions may times, but he always turned them down. He didn't want to uproot us all and make us move to Chicago. And he didn't want the stress of more responsibility. He liked working from home. He liked being around you kids." Sometimes when you get a gift, you know the giver expects something in return. If I didn't send a Christmas present thank you card to my grandmother by mid January, I was in big trouble. But my dad based his whole career on the being able to be around his children, and I never knew. I guess he wasn't looking to be acknowledged by us. He was just doing what he enjoyed.

And now in my life I balance my career with the time I spend raising my daughter. I lecture about new possibilities for men in their role as father. Suddenly, after this talk with my mom, I realise that I am making the same kinds of choices my dad made years ago. I'm just talking about it more. And I thought I was so original.

© 2008, Tim Hartnett

Other Father Issues, Books

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Your children need your presence more than your presents. - Jesse Jackson

Tim Hartnett, Ph.D. is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in private practice in Santa Cruz, CA. He specializes in Individual Counseling, Couples Therapy, and Divorce Mediation. He can be reached at 831.464.2922 or through his website:

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